This is a continuation of the Olympic reading series highlighting books that have won the Newbery Medal. For previous days, follow the links provided below.
Today, on the heels of Johnny Tremain, comes another winner with a historical focus. Written by Elizabth George Speare, The Witch of Blackbird Pond takes place in 1687 Puritan-era Connecticut. The Puritan community is a strict, rigid, and pious one, valuing the word of God above all else, and shunning those who do not adhere to their beliefs. So when Katherine Tyler, who prefers to go by Kit, arrives from the Barbados Islands to live with her Uncle Matthew and Aunt Rachel and their daughters Mercy and Judith, everything changes.
The free-spirited Kit runs into trouble before she even makes it off the boat. When a young girl’s doll falls overboard during the journey upriver, Kit jumps overboard to retrieve it. Instead of thanks, she is regarded suspiciously by the passengers, who regard women swimming as a sign of witchcraft. Kit quickly realizes that life in New England is going to be very different from life in Barbados. Before long, she manages to bump heads with just about everyone in town. Kit has just as hard a time understanding the traditions of the God-fearing Puritans as they have trying to reconcile a headstrong island girl to their somber way of life.
Kit certainly has her work cut out for her as she tries to acclimate while trying to avoid offending any and all of her new neighbors. She learns to clean, mend, sew, teach school, and politely avoid unwanted suitors, but she is still friendless and lonely. That is, until she meets Hannah. Hannah is a Quaker woman who was shunned by the community years ago for refusing to keep the Puritan creed and continuing to practice her own faith. She and Kit strike up a warm but forbidden friendship, two misfits in an otherwise homogenous community. But even the comfort of companionship is denied Kit when a plague strikes the community and the superstitious Puritans accuse Hannah of witchcraft and threaten to sentence her to death as punishment. Kit must use all of her courage and wits to find a way to save her friend and herself before they are both brought to trial.
The Witch of Blackbird Pond is an excellent way for readers to become better acquainted with the early colonies of North America, the religious roots that created them, and the culture that would leave a lasting effect on the region for centuries to come.
*The Witch of Blackbird Pond is available for check-out at both the Provo City Library and Brigham Young University’s Harold B. Lee Library.